“"Yet even now," declares the Lord, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments." Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.” Joel 2:12-13 ESV
When we consider the term “return” we often think of something negative. The concept of returning is often seen as going backwards, regressing or having to start again, which in the competitive, fast paced, hustle and bustle of being an urban millennial, can be seen as a failure.
In today’s passage, we read of the prophet Joel instructing the children of Israel to return to the Lord in advance of His return. What is interesting about what the prophet says is that he doesn’t just tell them to return to the Lord, but how they should return, who they return to and why they should return.
How they should return - Joel tells the children of Israel to return with “all of their heart” and that should be evidenced through fasting, weeping and mourning. This tells us something very important: the position of our heart should be demonstrated by the actions we commit. This means, if I claim to be doing something ‘with all my heart’ those around me should be able to testify according to my fasting, weeping and mourning and not according to the gifts that I bring. What Joel is saying is that genuine repentance in the believer is shown when they avail themselves to the ultimate spiritual heart surgeon Jesus Christ, by asking Him to carry out a surgery which goes beyond them offering what they have to them offering themselves.
Who they are returning to - As well as telling the children of Israel how they should return, Joel makes it clear who they are returning to, by telling them to return to the Lord, who is their God. The prophet says this to remind the Israelite's of their identity in God. He is reinforcing the fact that they had moved away for their spiritual position in God that is rightfully theirs and is reminding them that it is in the Lord where they should be, a position which they are entitled to as Abraham’s heirs.
Why they should return - Joel finishes by reminding the Israelite's of the nature of their God, a God full of grace and mercy. Joel reminds them that there is nothing that can separate them from the love of God. A God who before the beginning of time had a plan to restore humanity back to Himself .
It is my prayer, that as we enter this season of lent, we will take the opportunity to return our hearts, minds and spirits back to OUR God. The one who first loves us. The one who while we were sinners sent His Son to die for us. This return is not a failure, this return is not a backward step, this return is a realignment to our God-given purpose and destiny, to be joint heirs with our saviour and redeemer, Jesus Christ, the King above all Kings and Lord above all Lords who sacrificed His life so that we could live eternally.